Projects up for scrutiny again
Three infrastructure projects put on hold due to legal controversy over the environmental assessment of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge can now resume their public consultation process following the government's victory in a judicial review.
The environmental impact assessment reports regarding a waste incinerator on Cheung Chau, the Sha Tin-Central rail link and the Sha Lo Tung columbarium-cum-nature reserve had to be withdrawn following a Court of First Instance ruling on the bridge in April. The ruling upheld an application for a judicial review over claims that the government's 2009 environmental impact assessment of the project had failed to meet its own standards.
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal reversed the previous ruling. The government is now expected to submit details of the three projects to the director of environmental protection and again launch a two-month public consultation.
However, the authorities may have a harder job selling the projects now. Cheung Chau residents, for instance, are set against the waste incinerator near Shek Kwu Chau, which they say is too close to their homes and might cause air pollution.
'We are glad to have this chance again and we will see what more we can do this time,' said Yung Chi-ming, head of the Cheung Chau rural committee. He would not speculate on the chances of blocking the project as the assessment report was previously endorsed by the Advisory Council on the Environment.
Yet whether residents will merely be offered the original report again or a new one containing standalone analysis of projected environmental conditions without the project in place - a requirement disputed in the judicial review - remains to be seen.
The appeal court said on Tuesday that such an analysis was not required in the bridge assessment report as all project proponents were already obliged to minimise their pollution footprint.
The case has also raised public expectations of the environmental impact assessment process. Thomas Choi Ka-man, environmental affairs officer of Friends of the Earth, said all resubmitted reports should voluntarily provide comparative environmental analysis.
Officials had earlier hinted that the project proponents were working to provide the analysis as a contingency in case the government lost the appeal case.
Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive officer of Green Power, a partner in the Sha Lo Tung project, said it would be unable to provide such analysis.
'This is incredibly expensive and our consultant seems unable to find an acceptable methodology to do that,' he said.
A source told the South China Morning Post that the standalone analysis may have been completed for the rail project. 'But it looks very unlikely that such an analysis will be presented in the report,' he said.
The MTR Corporation said on Tuesday that it had no timetable to resubmit the reports. Alan Wong Hok-ming, the solicitor assisting the judicial review applicant, Chu Yee-wah, said no instruction had been received from Chu as to whether to take the case to the Court of Final Appeal.